This will be the last post I make on subliminal adverts taken from no more than fifteen papers and magazines dated March, April, or May 2015, fifteen items that will have provided the material for issues I-XI of my Subliminal Advertising (now Subliminal Junk) series. The number of cases will amount to 87. Although a few cases are taken from the same advert (one or several sex embeds shown first, then some embedded subliminal drawings in a second time), this will give you an idea of how generalized the subliminal phenomenon is in print advertising. To be sure, 87 cases from 15 issues makes more than 5 cases of subliminal advertising per issue, and as I have already said I could easily take more cases from these issues if I decided to present indiscriminately all the subliminals I found, which I did not want to do, in order not to overload my blog. Some early cases I would even fain withdraw now, because they are not so exemplary and interesting as others, as they date back from the beginnings of my research a few months ago, when I was not so proficient in finding that sort of junk. Clearly, I will be more discriminate when I make a book out of this material.
From now on, I will extract material from other magazines’ issues, in search of the most exciting stuff.
The following cases 80-7 are taken from: German weekly Der Spiegel dated April 11 (Cases 80-2), Time magazine dated March 30 (Case 83), French weekly Le Point dated March 12 (Case 84), French weekly Marianne dated March 20 (Cases 85-6), and finally Le Point again dated March 19 (Case 87).
…………….Case 80 Union Invesment EXTRA-PAIR SEX
The copy, in German, says ‘Why are socks always disappearing from the washing machine?’ and we see a father and his son wondering at their finding only one sock from a pair among the washing. The copy further says that, although we cannot explain everything, at least having one’s savings at Union Investment (the investment branch of Deutsche Zentral-Genossenschaftsbank) is a safe and transparent option, liable to no bad surprise. I leave it to you whether this is a fine, clever advertisement so far as the preceding is concerned.
What I am interested in is the subliminal gorilla sitting in the background behind the kid. He smiles at a woman reclining with her head on its bulging stomach. Both the gorilla and the woman seem to like each other very much. In fact, they have just had sex. The woman is naked, the white skin of her shoulder or breast being apparent. Of course, she is the man’s wife, and the kid is her son. The man has a distinct moronic look about him, smiling as do morons. One would expect to see slobber drooling from the commissure of his lips. As to the son, I’m afraid his ears (having perhaps been airbrushed) are somewhat large and extend a bit far from the skull, like pinheads’ ears. Even more striking is the size of his left forearm. As you can see, his left hand is leaning on the top of the washing machine, but there is something wrong with the perspective: it is hardly believable that this is his hand, because it means the forearm is unusually long. Now please recall that gorillas have very long forearms. This feature of the kid’s arm hints at the gorilla being no less than the biological father…
This is a most elaborate way of playing on the all-pervasive paternity uncertainty, a source of many ailments in our civilization, from pathological jealousy to domestic violence to refusal to commitment and single mothers (whose kids, it has been found, are more likely to become delinquents*)… And it is no figment of the masculine imagination either, since child support agencies, which administer paternity tests on a daily basis, report a non-paternity rate (that is the number of children not sired by the men who believe to be the fathers) of 15 per cent (Robin Baker 1996). The advert subliminally plays on that. It says: Don’t be a moron like the guy here, with the sock in his hands, and contract with Union Investment, or DZ Bank, or else your wife will know how to cuckold you. In other words, it is the cuckolds who do not rely on Union Investment for the management of their savings.
Besides, it is likely that a cuckold will not care very much to save money for his kids if these are not really his, and a man who entertains such doubts will hesitate to save money for he knows not whom’s kids. So much so that one who does not save money for one’s kids may well be suspected of being a cuckold and of knowing it or surmising it. So the advert also asks: Are you a cuckold(, or what)?
Finally, gorillas are animals where male dominance is particularly salient (see my remarks on Case 73 here). The advert implies, subliminally, that one will be cuckolded by a more dominant male, and that having one’s savings to Union Investment will prevent that by showing off one’s dominance, unlike the moron with the single sock in his hands. In other words, Union Investment is the dominants’ bank.
As a postface to Case 80, that dialogue quoted from a famous play. “Hjalmar. I want to know if… your child has a right to live under my roof. Is Hedwig mine… or… Well? Gina. I don’t know.” (Ibsen, The Wild Duck)
*Note. The correlation I mention between single mothers and delinquent offspring is no statement on causality. The correlation may be due to most single mothers being poor, and the primary cause monetary deprivation. I mention the correlation as a way to justify my speaking of “ailment” although many a single mother might object to the label, especially among women separated from wealthy businessmen and earning comfortable alimonies.
…………….Case 81 Freistaat Thüringen SEX Again
Same advert as Case 40 (click here for the full picture). In the same coppice where I outlined sex embeds, I presently delineate the interesting drawing of an erected penis attended by three nymphs, represented as two faces on the right and an animal on the left. True to human anatomy, the testes are asymmetric.
…………….Case 82 Peugeot SEX
An advert for the French car manufacturer Peugeot. The copy is strictly insignificant although I doubt not some public relation men from the advertising milieu would easily extol its merits to a credulous public. What I want you to see is the penis ejaculating on the model’s face. The penis, namely the glans with a well-delineated coronal ridge, as well as the upper part of the shaft, are visible in the guise of sun beams. Part of the glans is covered by a brighter spark, which could represent semen flowing on the glans due to the peculiar position or movement of the penis during an earlier spurt (or else it could be a way to conceal that disturbing penis to consciousness). At the present moment, a fraction of second after the earlier spurt, another spurt is projected through the meatus toward the model’s cheek, or hair, on the left. The copy is now more meaningful. ‘Impress Yourself’ by submitting young girls to your sexual fantasies thanks to being the owner of a Peugeot car. Facial ejaculation is indicative of female subjection (cf. H. J. Eysenck).
…………….Case 83 Microsoft SEX
An advert for Microsoft Cloud from the same campaign as here. The green arrow ends in a cloud. The cloud shows a woman’s face. She has the arrow in her mouth and seems to enjoy it. If you think I am seeing imaginary things in clouds, please let me remind you that the cloud here is not a cloud in the sky but a cloud in an ad, and that makes a big difference. I can admit there is no God or gods that send intricate signals to us humans through clouds’ shapes, but the graphic designer of this ad is a human being like you and me – with that difference that he or she probably earns a lot more money, because the ad having being published in major papers and magazines around the world the campaign must have been immensely expensive, and the advertiser remunerated in consequence.
……………..Case 84 Constance Hotels and Resorts SEX
I don’t know if this one should be called subliminal at all, but I want to be sure you understand what is going on, because it comes from a respected newspaper and I know quite a few people who would blush to acknowledge their being exposed to that sort of a junk.
As to subliminals, maybe the cloud above the woman is a bit phallic, being erected contrary to the other clouds. And there’s a old man’s face grinning in the upper right corner, showing sarcastic approval and enjoyment.
The lady is coming back from her bath in the sea toward the beach, where an attendant from the hotel is waiting with towels. How long has he been waiting? Is it really how employees attend to customers in Constance hotels and resorts? Is the customer there offered a return to the old days of footmanship, when lackeys were at their master’s disposal night and day? Be that as it may, there is more to find in Constance hotels and resorts. The lady looks determinedly and eagerly at the local employee’s face. She wears a sort of nightdress, and that seems rather strange for sea bathing. As I can see no nuance in colors indicative of a bathing suit under that dress, and as the dress being white it has by necessity become transparent due to immersion in water, the lady is actually exhibiting herself to the employee facing her. In particular, her pubic hair must be conspicuous. Furthermore, if she is intent on using the towels, that will prove a futile exercise unless she removes the wet gown, that is to say unless she undresses in front of the employee. That the advert is coarse eroticism is not to deny. Why should it be called subliminal at all? It’s coarse, it’s vulgar, it’s in your face (not tongue in cheek), and it occurs while you may be under the fancy that you do your duty as a respectable member of the society by keeping yourself informed of the news.
…………….Case 85 Audi SEX
Same ad as Case 5 (click here for the full picture). I did not expatiate then on the copy ‘Less and the City,’ which refers – tongue in cheek, as always – to the successful TV series ‘Sex and the City,’ and I won’t here either. You already know, if you have followed this series, that when I report copy as being ‘tongue in cheek,’ it means that it’s deadly serious. No, what I call your attention to presently is the fellatio performed to a spectacled man looking in your direction. It may be a portrait of the former president of Volkswagen’s directory, who resigned on September 23 (taking with him a golden parachute of 28 million euros) following the disclosure of a huge fraud involving 11 million cars of several marques of the group, including Audi, souped up with anti-antipollution test software (I’ve just seen his picture in the papers and I think our man here looks like him.) If Volkswagen’s lawyers now have the judiciary proceedings go their own way, we will learn not only that decisions in the group are hypercentralized, so that all in all a very small number of people could have known, but also that the top brass – the men who centralize the power – were utterly ignorant of what was happening, so that the fraud can only be the mischief of some crazed engineer, a minor one at that. And if, on the other hand, they do not have it their way, the economic consequences will be tremendous not only for the first car manufacturer in the world (providing their daily bread to 600,000 people, not to mention contractors) but for the world itself, so to speak.
…………….Case 86 Mgen SEX
The model on the ad is a skier, a champion. People like him. Sport is so important because it boosts your testosterone. When your favorite player or team wins, you get a testosterone boost (G. Saad 2011). When it loses, you’ve really got to watch another match, or another sport, where another of your favorites can win again. It keeps you high. And it makes you buy. A little subliminal can do no harm either, can it? That’s why the graphic designer has embedded in the background a smiling woman’s face presented with a penis.
…………….Case 87 Mettez Paris SEX
Hunters, it is well known, are Nature’s best friends. The present ad, however, tells another story. It is a cheap ad for a dress business located in Paris. The business sells hunting attire. The picture shows a painting of the naive genre representing a hunter and a deer before a tree adorned with wild fowl, bird and squirrel. The deer’s eye is wicked. The hunter’s left hand holds a branch of the tree; the part he is holding is quite dark, but further on the right the branch is silvery gray like steel, as if the hunter were not holding a branch but instead were brandishing a knife. And, astonishingly, the whole painting is smeared with a reddish brown substance, like dried blood. The ad, obviously, intends to appeal to bloodthirsty, brutish minds, to violent people eager to indulge in butchering live bodies – the very friends of Nature we were just talking about.
In order to present a few more cases of subliminal techniques used, besides the pervasive sex embeds, in print advertising, I have selected other adverts from the same couple of magazines I have already being using so far, that is, from the months of March, April, and May 2015. The following titles, all women magazines, will provide the new cases: namely, the French magazine Elle from March 20 (Cases 66-7); Cosmopolitan UK Edition from May (68-9); Vogue from April (70-2); and the French magazine Le Figaro Madame from May 22 (Case 73).
Altogether, from no more than a dozen issues of various magazines and weekly newspapers on a three-month period, I have extracted over 70 ads to present my case on contemporary subliminal techniques – and the number would have been much greater had I only have more time and patience at my disposal. Because subliminals are everywhere. How could it be otherwise? Our social environment has become so saturated with advertising that no attention whatsoever is paid any longer to the huge majority of advertisements, and as a result advertisers must by necessity rely, to achieve any foreseeable impact, on mechanisms aimed at impressing so-called peripheral attention, i.e. subconscious mind processes, that is to say to rely on subliminal techniques.
In the subliminal world of the human mind, survival and sexual instincts reign supreme. There are no – how do you call it again? – checks and balances in this realm. Marketers and advertisers know it, and they manipulate these drives in order to channel them into specific consuming behaviors. We live in a society that has accumulated mountains of data from a hundred years of scientific management and scientific marketing, i.e. of the experimental method applied to human behavior on the workplace and the marketplace. Scientific management has put an end to anticapitalist, revolutionary movements; scientific marketing has been able to automatize, so to speak, consumption. It’s Galbraith’s “inverted sequence” running at full speed. This accumulated knowledge remains in large part proprietary, belonging to the corporations that financed the research from which they now derive huge benefits. With time, some of the results trickle down into the public domain, largely, however, via specialized books from insiders, at a pace dictated by the proprietors themselves. Employees from marketing departments as well as from advertising agencies are contractually committed not to disclose the content of their activities (cf. W.B. Key). However, it is not even likely that much concern would be stirred among the public, were unrestricted access to these proprietary data provided all of a sudden. As a matter of fact, the existence of alpha waves, for instance, is well known, as is the fact they are induced in the brain by watching television, along with a hypnoid state and increased suggestibility as a consequence. What concern does it raise? People, it seems, fail to understand what that implies.
…………….Case 66 Armani SEX
This advert is the same as in Case 15 (here). It’s a two-page ad, one page being presented on Case 15 (a sex embed among the reflections of the sunglasses), the other, here, showing what seems to be the same woman, body complete down to the knees (as opposed to the head only being pictured on the opposite page), without sunglasses, on a blue sky, blue sea background. In Case 15, the model has her shoulders covered; here, the model’s shoulders are not. Are there two different persons, and are our brains invited to imagine some story taking place before our eyes, speculating, unbeknownst to our consciousness, on such slight, even hard to notice discrepancies?
On the page here shown, the model is wearing some blue, satined sackcloth of a sort. There is something particularly odd with her left arm; the shape made by her hand in the pocket looks very awkward. Consider it for a moment. The shape looks awkward because it is, in fact, that of a penis. The bulging pocket provides the glans, the arm – her hand being entirely concealed – gives the shaft. Furthermore, the dress folds on the left-hand of the bulging pocket are vaginal folds, the darkened area outline a vaginal slit, so the subliminal penis points toward a subliminal vagina. There is, however, a discrepancy between the size of the penis and that of the vagina; the former is too small to be considered a suitable object.
I suggest that this picture is likely to provoke among its viewers, both male and female, unconscious feelings of sexual inadequacy, thus adding to current levels of anxiety and/or frustration. Anxiety is a primary trigger of compulsive buying. There is an endless supply of uncertainty in the domain of sex, and with uncertainty goes anxiety.
…………….Case 67 Stella McCartney SEX
It’s about a nice little shining handbag. So sheeny is the texture of the bag, so starlike its silvery surface, that it works like a mirror, reflecting the world in a myriad of dazzling little beams of opalescent light. So let’s take a closer look at these reflections. I have outlined on Picture 67-3 below some interesting drawings. Towards the left, a reclining man’s head can be seen. The man is looking with apparent satisfaction at the pair of amazingly nice breasts a woman is proferring him; in all likelihood she will cover his face with them soon. On the right, another man’s face, strangely grining, like mesmerized by awe, appears behing a woman’s back. As a dark triangle her pubic hair is apparent, as well as the legs and belly.
…………….Case 68 Viva Glam SEX
Viva Glam does not only sell lipstick and other cosmetics, it also makes donations to provide care for people affected by HIV/AIDS. The model represents a strip dancer, maybe a prostitute, in a typical venue for this profession, with mirrors at all angles, crude red lights, assorted with weird-shaped, pink neon tubes, and a glimmering confusion on the dazzling background. It’s about sex and death and beauty and money. Look at the right-hand side, among the copse-like neon-tube structure. One can see a penis glans, with deep purple hue and light reflections on its turgescent tissue. The glow of light has been cleverly located so as to cut a drawn line and thus isolate what is none other than the penis meatus. Furthermore, the neon tubes partially covering the glans, on its left side, represent a pair of scissors. I let you decide what one’s subconscious might be feeling after unattended exposure to such subliminal junk.
Addendum. My first thought has been that if a prostitute was represented (it can hardly be denied that the model is intended to represent a prostitute because, as the rumor goes, strip dancers or cabaret dancers –and she is such a dancer, obviously– make extra money from customers by having sex with them), then it must be exciting to (a number of) women to imagine themselves as prostitutes. The subliminal penis and scissors would remain out of this, something besides, for a different kind of women, or at least a distinct trait of character, that of castrating women, which per se does not seem to have a necessary relation to the fantasy of being a prostitute. However, since I published the Case, another scenario came to my mind, more coherent, as I will now explain.
The model is represented as a prostitute and intended to be recognized as such by the female reader, not necessarily at conscious level. For many a female reader, now, the prostitute is, subconsciously at least, the enemy, and their reflex will be to bare their claws and show their teeth, most especially as their mind is invited to dwell on HIV/AIDS (remember that is the argument of the ad’s copy: Viva Glam funds organizations that take care of people affected by HIV/AIDS). The prostitute is the woman that would bring HIV/AIDS to the female reader’s bedroom via the latter’s husband. This is the main argument subliminal. If you, female reader, do not take care to keep on appealing sexually to your husband or partner, he will resort to sex workers, and that may result in him and then you contracting a sexually transmitted disease. And if you dare not carry out castration (the subliminal scissors) to protect your health or even save your life, how do you keep appealing sexually to him? By using Mac Viva Glam lipstick, no doubt.
…………….Case 69 Simply Be… SEX
It says ‘Simply Be… You,’ so let’s take a look at what You is. It strikes one at first glance that You is rather different from the ladies one usually sees in the pictures of a magazine like Cosmopolitan. You, indeed, is overweight. Chubby. You wears blue jeans, which, however widespread in real life streets and meadows, is frankly unusual on the pages of women’s magazines. You has a cheap neo-hippie look about her, hinting at a wish to experience the same sexual liberty as hippies of old. You sits carelessly and slovenly, like a slattern, wears cheap inconspicuous bracelets (all plastic, I would swear), and her facial features are kind of ordinary and unattractive. What else can I say if not that You, although she looks like you in her ways, is just the kind of person you don’t care to be? Slighted by an advertisement?
…………….Case 70 Bottega Veneta SEX
A two-page ad. The right-hand page shows a scantily clad woman, the left-hand one a room of some sort (and what the hell of a room is that? you might ask). The scanty clothing, as well as the woman’s attitude, eroticizes the advertisement, so the viewer is invited to take a look at the room with erotic thoughts (remember the right-hand page is the first to be seen when one is turning pages, and adverts are strategically placed according to that fact). What sort of a room is this room, then? A very odd and strange one, indeed. The bedstead is a plain metallic structure, the bed linen is minimal and unadorned, with a blanket that looks unpleasantly coarse. The walls are plain and… black. One could almost feel them oozing with humidity. The wooden door looks ominous. The flower drawn on the cushion is the only element that would inspire some feeling other than utter gloom and dejection, but its presence is a cynical joke, because it cannot counterbalance the global effect of the room (it can only divert your brain from analysing the picture as it is truly intended). Where are we? It’s a dungeon cell where the Inquisition keeps its victims, innocent women alleged to be witches, between interrogations in the torture chamber, or it is a cellar fit out by a sexual predator who abducts his victims and locks them in this place to rape them at his will. Victims are attractive women like the one we see on the opposite page. Sometimes advertising taps on weird, weird fantasies, you know.
…………….Case 71 Vogue SEX
This case study will take the form of a question. The young Chinese-looking lady is depicted looking merrily at you and me, frolicking in a street of some Chinatown, the Chinatown of a city in an English-speaking country because the shop signboards are written both in Chinese and English. Just above the woman’s left shoulder, even sticking to it, appears the word ‘parlor’ (not ‘parlour,’ so we might as well be in NYC), from a signboard further behind her. We all know the double meaning of the word ‘parlor,’ and the woman could be a prostitute from this house. Touching her hair are the words ‘hair care,’ but this, certainly, is only a coincidence. Other signboards, on both sides of her, advertise liquors and wines, a staple good for successful socialites and losers just the same. My attention was drawn on the road writings. These writings, partially concealed from our eyes by the woman’s shape, make two lines, and the end letter of each line is S and X respectively (S lying above X). SX is a code name for SEX. It’s been a long time since I last went to NYC, and I wasn’t really interested in reading the road writings either, but I guess the present writings must be very special ones because, from whatever way you read the line with the X-ending (and the picture leaves one at a loss when trying to figure whether the lines must be read from the viewer’s standpoint or from the other side, since the decipherable S, X, I, N are symetrical), I just can’t see what word relevant to street signing the letters NIX, if at the end, or XIN, if at the beginning, can be part of. This is the question I ask to more knowledgeable people. Is it Cantonese in Latin transcript? In case it means nothing and such word does not exist, the artist has taken very bold a step to confront our lizard brains with an SX compound.
…………….Case 72 L’Oréal SEX
One acquaintance to whom I showed my research on subliminal advertising discarded it first-hand telling me, as an account for his intention not to pay attention to it, that advertising today was pornographic at the conscious level, so there was no need to look after subconscious tricks since pornography could be made use of openly by advertisers. Of course he’s right when he says some ads are openly sexual in content, but his inference is nevertheless incorrect. As I said above, subliminals are aimed at peripheral attention (at the brain of people who won’t take a look at the ad – the brain registering it anyway if it has, no matter how quickly, entered the field of sight) and as such are not treated by the brain in the same way as objects entering conscious attention. Even an openly pornographic advert may be bolstered by subliminal sex embeds. Furthermore, advertisers know they can’t play the sex card aboveboard all the time, because it can have adverse effects occasionally, whereas there is no adverse reaction to subliminal sex. Never, as long as it remains subliminal.
Double entendre with words is routine advertising, as even advertisers will admit. If a word has, not as a principal meaning but among its other few, a sexual meaning, you can be sure it has become a catchword. This might be called a subliminal technique, although the double entendre is often recognized by the public, and the idea is therefore to make it look like tongue in cheek – when it would more properly be labeled “in-your-face.” (It’s precisely because of possible adverse reactions to the “in-your-face” effect that aboveboard obscenity is not more frequent in advertising, all in all; subliminal junk is much safer.)
Let’s take this advertisement for L’Oréal as an example. Saving time is in the mind of many consumers, and time-saving devices much sought after. So how do you advertise time-saving? Here the advertisers ask the question “How quick are you?” Need I comment it? How quick are you? refers, tongue in cheek or in-your-face-wise, as you choose to call it, to female orgasm. How quick do you orgasm? is the question, and, if you take the time to analyse it, it means, given the well-known and established time discrepancy between male and female orgasms generally speaking, How likely are you to orgasm? Of course, the discrepancy can be overcome by special techniques and preliminaries, but the seemingly mild, humorous joke is not innocuous at all, inasmuch as it is likely to raise the level of anxiety present in many a viewer, male and female, for the male the anxiety that he is too quick to be a good mate, for the female the anxiety that she won’t find the good mate to gratify her if she’s too slow. The fear, and possibility, of sexual inadequacy makes the advert a grim jest. One response to raised anxiety is compulsive buying. Really, in the phenomenon of advertising, people kiss the hand that beats them, like a dog licking his hard-hearted master’s hand.
Having said this, I don’t even feel the need to extend on “Blow Dry.” You know what it means to blow, sexually, and you’ve also heard of “dry sex,” i.e. sex with clothes on, rubbing one’s body against each other’s. It’s called dry because, if fluid discharge occurs, it remains unnoticed by the mate. The seminal fluid provides the wetness, in the idea, and its absence the dryness. “Blow dry,” thus, means to perform a fellatio until the semen has been discharged and the genitals are, as one would say, emptied of the fluid, and thus temporarily dry. In your face – but those who don’t notice will buy.
…………….Case 73 Guerlain SEX
Dear Madam, have you ever dreamt of being kept in a harem? Of course not. Tell me, then, what is the assumption behind this ad ? The name of the product is Shalimar, from the famous Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, Pakistan, a place associated with the former Moghul rulers of the Indian peninsula, whose Muslim kings, princes, and highnesses were masters of immense harems, filled in large part with the wives and daughters of subdued Hindus. The blonde woman on the picture is sitting naked in a room whose light is provided by the sun through mashrabiya-patterned panels reminiscent of zenanas’ windows. She is, therefore, in the women’s appartments of some Oriental palace, behind the purdah, that is to say in a harem. The fantasy of being one of many, one among many lovers or sexual things at the power of a dominant man, is something real. It dates back to the days of the primitive horde, when our simian ancestors were organized around a dominant male. As some researchers put it (the evolutionary psychologist V. Griskevicius and D. Kenrick, 2013), in those days, as among the primates which still have such social organization, the females would line up and wait for their turn to be inseminated by the alpha male. (The other males only have the right to copulate with infertile females.) I suggest that the fact of female orgasm being scattered among the population (I have found so many different figures, from 30% to 50% to 70%, for women never experiencing orgasm during intercourse that trying any guess seems pointless) may have something to do with this heritage of ours. Many women just won’t have it to the full with nobody but the silverback gorilla, I mean the dominant male. It’s only a conjecture, of course. We know, besides, that women are more promiscuous than gorilla females; the data all point to greater sperm competition among humans, and chimpanzees (of which the dwarf variety is known as the bonobo), than among gorillas. Still, researchers also state that women’s EPC (extra-pair copulations), the scientific name for horns-putting, occurs much more frequently with some types, or rather a certain type – singular – of male.
I have also outlined one sex embed, for good measure. It was easy, for the graphic designer, to embed the word sex among the filigreed shades of the wall panels.